State v. Evans, No. COA08-293 (N.C. App. 10/21/2008), COA08-293

CitationNo. COA08-293
Case DateOctober 21, 2008
CourtCourt of Appeal of North Carolina (US)

Page 1

Unpublished Opinion

No. COA08-293
Court of Appeals of North Carolina
Filed October 21, 2008
This case not for publication

Columbus County No. 07 CRS 2989.

Appeal by Defendant from Judgment of criminal contempt entered 14 August 2007 by Judge Gregory A. Weeks in Columbus County Superior Court. Heard in the Court of Appeals 10 September 2008.

Attorney General Roy Cooper, by Assistant Attorney General LaToya B. Powell, for the State.

Appellate Defender Staples Hughes, by Assistant Appellate Defender Katherine Jane Allen, for Defendant.


Larry Evans Jr. (Defendant) appeals from a judgment of criminal contempt. On 14 August 2007, in Columbus County Superior Court, the Honorable Gregory Weeks summarily found Defendant in direct criminal contempt and Judge Weeks sentenced Defendant and ordered him incarcerated for thirty (30) days. This punishment was later reduced to three (3) days incarceration. Defendant appeals. The relevant facts are: On the morning of 14 August 2007, Defendant was walking out of the Columbus County Courthouse when he was approached by his former probation Officer Eric Lammonds (Lammonds). Lammonds, who had previously been a probation officer for Defendant, mistook Defendant for a current probationer of his with an outstanding parole warrant. Lammonds attempted to stop Defendant in order to speak with him. As soon as Lammonds approached, Defendant refused to identify himself, turned away and started "cussing." In response, Lammonds grabbed Defendant and put him against a nearby cement wall. Defendant jerked away and continued using profanity. Lammonds thereafter confirmed Defendant's identity from a bystander, who told him that Defendant was not the person he was looking for. After Lammonds confirmed Defendant's identity, Lammonds stepped away and attempted to apologize. Defendant continued cussing and threatening.

Judge Weeks heard this commotion immediately outside the window from his chambers. At the time, Judge Weeks was beginning the second day of the jury selection process for the controversial case of State v. Troy. Because the case involved racial overtones and was the subject of significant media publicity, the court expected the jury selection process to be a challenging one. Judge Weeks heard Defendant using profanity and speaking in a loud voice outside his chambers and in close proximity to where the jurors were being sequestered. Judge Weeks also observed Lammonds attempting to talk to Defendant and to calm him down. Subsequently, Judge Weeks held Defendant in criminal contempt of court, concluding that the commotion which the Defendant created was loud enough for the jurors to hear and that his conduct was likely to interrupt or interfere with matters that were presently before the court.

Standard of Review

Defendant argues that a de novo standard of review is applied to a finding of criminal contempt. Defendant further notes that when reviewing a finding of contempt de novo, the Court assesses the sufficiency of the evidence under the constitutional requirement that the evidence must be sufficient to convince a rational trier of fact of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Defendant's assessment of this Court's standard of review is incomplete. The standard of review of an appeal from a trial court's finding of criminal contempt is well-established. While conclusions of law are reviewable de novo, the findings of fact are not. See State v. Ford, 164 N.C. App. 566, 596 S.E.2d 846 (2004). On appellant review of a contempt order, "the trial judge's findings of fact are conclusive . . . when supported by any competent evidence and are reviewable only for the purpose of passing on their sufficiency." O'Briant v. O'Briant, 313 N.C. 432, 436-37, 329 S.E.2d 370, 374 (1985).

In the instant case, therefore, the appropriate standard of review is whether or not there was competent evidence to support the trial court's findings of fact and whether those findings of fact support a conclusion that Defendant was in criminal contempt. We find that there was sufficient evidence to support the findings of fact, and that the findings support the conclusion that Defendant was in criminal contempt.

Criminal Contempt

Defendant argues the trial court erred in finding him in direct criminal contempt because his actions were not willful and were not committed with the willful intent to interrupt or interfere with court proceedings.

Criminal contempt is defined as the "[w]illful disobedience of, resistance to, or interference with a court's lawful process, order, directive, or instruction or its execution." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 5A-11(a)(3)(2007). Direct criminal contempt is "committed within the sight or hearing of a presiding judicial official[,]" N.C. Gen. Stat. § 5A-13(a)(1)(2007), while indirect criminal contempt "'arises from matters not...

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